Raising a Mighty Girl

Tell me Ava, why do you think Sistine said what she did about Southern people?” I asked.

We were reading the book ‘The Tiger Rising‘ by Kate DiCamillo and Sistine (the female protagonist) introduced herself to her new classmates in Kentucky by declaring southerners ignorant. Her classmates answered back on the playground afterwards.

Does she have a good point?”

What do you mean?

Are southern people ignorant?” I asked.

Well daddy, everyone is allowed to have an opinion.” She answered back.

Yes, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but it doesn’t mean just because you have an opinion, that makes you ‘right’.” I countered. “All opinions are not equal as some are better supported by facts and reason than others.”

I suppose Sistine’s point is backed up by the cruel irony that actual, modern day Kentuckians in desperate need of affordable health care vote against their own self-interests by electing people like Mitch McConnell who has routinely threatened to take it away. Add statistics on the southern states leading the country in obesity, lowest levels of educational attainment, teen pregnancy, and most deaths by firearm and Sistine may have a point. That would be a lesson for another time.

“Every country has the government it deserves.”

-Joseph de Maistre

With these deplorable conditions and bleak statistics, one would think that voters would be desperate for change. However, when the United States elected an admitted misogynist over a distinguished secretary of state, first lady and senator, we took giant leap backwards for women’s equality. I was shocked at how many women were dismissive not only of Trump’s conduct, but flat out rejected their own gender as weak or inadequate to run a country. The fog of the election hangover seems to be clearing to the reality of having a charlatan run the highest office in the country. That too would be a lesson for another day.

Just like Sistine, girls are often subject to a different level of judgement that has a razor thin margin of error compared to boys. They must be capable, but too much, and they’re seen as headstrong. They must be leaders, but if they micromanage, they’re ‘bitchy’. The pendulum swings so quickly.

Raising a daughter in this double standard environment will be the ultimate challenge for us as parents and we hope she’ll be able to recognize and rise up against blatant sexism as she grows up. Our little jag through the middle east in October and November should yield some teachable moments for women’s equality.

Strong and virile men with the inviting and submissive female

Our family is preparing to see ‘Avengers Endgame‘ this weekend and have been thinking of the franchise as a whole. The first time ‘Black Widow’ was introduced to the world, she was a damsel in distress to be rescued by capable men. One of my colleagues in graduate school highlighted how we even market products to boys and girls differently and this indoctrination conditions gender roles for the rest of children’s lives. Some people just can’t get their head around transgender, unisex bathrooms but have no problem with them on airplanes.

“These lawmakers who preach ‘small government reach’ want to limit a woman’s choice of what to do with her own uterus and ensure she’s nothing more than a birthing vessel to pander to their political base.”

As I write this, the nation is in a frenzy. New abortion mandates in Republican controlled houses have swept across the predominantly southern and midwestern states have made it illegal for women to get an abortion after 8 weeks. Doctors that perform a procedure will be sentenced to a life-time in prison. Teri Carter shared a very touching op-ed piece in the Washington post about her own experience of reuniting with her father who abandoned her as a child and pointed out how these new laws exonerate the impregnating father from all culpability; even child support. This condemns underage women to a life of poverty and limit their upward mobility with them being asked to carry the sole burden of childrearing as men are officially deemed as not responsible. These lawmakers who preach ‘small government reach’ want to the government to have more control over a woman’s uterus than she does, relegating her to a birthing vessel in order to pander to their political base.

For Small Hands
Like a girl

What can be done? How do we raise confident girls in this anxious age? Expose them to strong females in movies, literature and around them in life. Empower them. Let them shine. Encourage them to hangout with similar people who are up standers not bystanders. A friend of mine recently introduced me to ‘A Mighty Girl‘ which is a great site for parents and teachers with fantastic readings, and highlights movies, books, even clothing to empower and inspire girls to stand up, not sit down. But really, how does any parent really know what the hell they’re doing? Like Tyrion told Jon last weekend when asked if he did the right thing: “Ask me in ten years.”

By then, our daughter will hopefully be in her first year of college and I’ll be willing to tell you all about whether I did the right thing or not. In the meantime, we’ll always have Sistine to inspire us so we’ll be seeking out many more like her.

For Small Hands

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Designing Curriculum for a Global Education

Working on curriculum can feel like a slog for many teachers. Teaching is a hard profession.

With only so many hours in the school year (and even day) to create and mark assessments, meet with colleagues and prepare for lessons, (let alone teach them) it’s easy to neglect updating curriculum maps to ensure the viability of a curriculum. After a few years of teaching, most teachers invariably figure out ‘what’ must be taught and do so with the best intentions in the only way they know how. Still, teaching is a hard profession.

Someone once called education a ‘Profession that cannibalizes its young’.

Education reformists in the US like Michelle Rhee who rose to notoriety after a pledge to clean up public education and remove ‘lazy’ teachers who didn’t teach a viable curriculum by teaching to the standards were first embraced by the public, eager for any change to our lagging scores on worldwide PISA tests. Eventually, the sole measure for success became standardized test scores and the countless (and pointless) number of tests that students took over the school year which highjacked lesson time in favor of test prep. Teachers that didn’t deliver were culled out of this rigged game resulting in high teacher turnover, attrition and overseas postings. Someone once called education a ‘Profession that cannibalizes its young‘. Teaching is definitely a hard profession.

One of the more thoughtful changes I’ve seen lately in education is Finland’s move to integrated, thematic units of study rather than subject specific disciplines. Finland and the Scandinavian countries have led the world in education for years but they have had a lot going for them that has made it easier, such as high literacy rates, robust funding and exemplary teacher training along with amazing internal professional development opportunities. This change from subject specific to concepts or ‘themes’ has rightfully had its share of critics- the first person through the wall always gets bloodied. “How are teachers supposed to be experts on every subject?” is the common complaint from cynics. Good question, but don’t elementary teachers teach every subject with the exception of PE and the arts?

“A year of world wide travel has so many opportunities to teach history, explore environments, volunteer, and develop empathy through cultural awareness.”

Singapore American School’s superintendent Chip Kimball recently shared a fascinating presentation that I caught at 21st Century Learning Hong Kong to support this pedagogy. They are reorganizing their traditional classrooms into pods called ‘Flexible Learning Environments’ where teachers are on a team (Team 6a, 6b, 6c for instance) and students move to and from each teacher in the pod based on the needs of the project, not necessarily when the bell rings. This style of redesigning spaces supports grade level teams collaborating and sharing ideas in a constructive, empowering way that values teacher’s individual strengths, but in a fluid learning environment that resembles real life. By the way, Mr. Kimball, if you’re reading this, I’d work for you in a heartbeat.

Flexible Learning Spaces: Image Courtesy of Singapore American School

When the World is your Teacher

This is the curriculum I wanted to design. Having a year of travel to teach my daughter a curriculum that focused on high cognitive abilities but also educating the ‘whole child’ might be the most liberating, autonomous year of teaching that I’ve ever had, and possibly ever will. A year of world wide travel has so many opportunities to teach history, explore environments, volunteer, and develop empathy through cultural awareness. The challenge however, has been how to distill separate subjects into a handful of thematic units that are transparent, accountable and viable. Here have been the stages that I’ve used to formulate them:

Image Courtesy of Creative Commons

Step 1: Identifying Themes from Literature Studies: Our school’s grade 4 teaching team recently shared the half dozen books that are essential reading in their core curriculum. I’ve ordered the ones we haven’t read and chose ‘literacy’ as the backbone around which to name a theme and also integrate the three major writing pieces (narrative realistic fiction, persuasive essays, and informational writing). From this, I’ve settled on the following unit themes based on concepts in the literature:

  • Unit 1: Survival
  • Unit 2: The History Around Us
  • Unit 3: Standing up for Others
  • Unit 4: Explorers
  • Unit 5: Protecting Our World
Thousands of high quality titles.

Step 2: Organizing Power Standards into a Curriculum Guide: Power standards are the most important standards in a curriculum and we wanted to teach them well and deliberately. We created a curriculum guide with these alongside summaries, skills and essential questions (we’ll use a lot more when we cognitive coach) for reference. We have some project ideas in stage 3, but will also let Ava chose the best product to demonstrate her learning. I’ll probably add to this over the months.

Unit 1 Curriculum Map: Sur… by on Scribd

Step 3: Breaking Down Standards into Assessment Blueprints: There is a saying in Spanish: “entre dicho y hecho hay gran trecho” meaning between what is said and done, often exists a big gap. In regards to education, it’s easy for educators to pay lip service to standards and not assess them or when they do, realize they didn’t give ample opportunities and chances for students to show their learning.

Image courtesy of Creative Commons

To prevent this oversight, I organized standards into assessment blueprints that allow me to track where and how standards have been assessed using ‘Depth of Knowledge’ indicators in verbiage with ‘Formative’ and ‘Summative’ assessments.

Step 4: Combining Standards into Transdisciplinary Projects: After I identified the standards, I was able to find overlaps in Math, Science and Social Studies to see where different subjects might support one another. For this last step we will have to be responsive to learning opportunities that we find while traveling and bundle them together when possible.

The Bottom Line

The word ‘homeschooling’ is a loaded term. When most people think of families that homeschool their children, they either dismiss them as casually negligent, political wingdings, or religious nut jobs who think that public education is a covert, Obama-era conspiracy designed to indoctrinate their children with a socialist, homosexual agenda. There are a glut of sites and blogs espousing the homeschooling pathway as ‘the only way‘, but parents risk under preparing their children for college and beyond who carry this practice into a child’s high school years when the parents themselves don’t have the content knowledge and expertise on more advanced subjects.

My ultimate goal with this post is to provide a sensible roadmap for any others that may like to do the same. In the meantime, we’ll be adding to these Google docs and the ‘Curriculum‘ page as our trip marches forward so feel free to download, copy and steal any and everything. We’ll be out exploring!

In Bend Oregon (July 2018)

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Waiting for the Hammer to Fall

We’re in our final few weeks of living in South Korea.

It’s a funny thing- living while such an impending life event is on the horizon. Just yesterday, we were out in the Itaewon neighborhood of Seoul, having a celebratory dinner and cocktails with our friend Roori at ‘Vatos’ before taking a taxi to Insadong to take in the ‘lantern festival’ which is a spring mainstay in downtown Seoul. We met up with some friends, had a few laughs and got Ava home and in bed just before midnight with her tired whininess just setting in. If we were in Spain, we’d just be getting our evening started.

As we were out last night though, I wondered if this would be the ‘last time’ we’d go here or the ‘last time’ we’d see that. My eyes danced around the facades, the hangul, and the lanterns as my friends tried to maintain a conversation while my attention would involuntarily drift elsewhere with creeping nostalgia leaving them wondering if my Tourettes was acting up or I was merely a poor listener.

At the lantern Festival, Seoul

This afternoon, our friend Jim is going to come by for Ava’s bunk bed which will be our biggest furniture item to ditch before the movers come to box up our lives and store them in a storage container for a year. From this afternoon, we’ll start the 6 week, downward slide of getting rid of clothes, asking if this ‘really brings joy’ and only keep essentials that we can’t bear to part with. Our last day of school is a Friday, and we leave the following Monday with a weekend fire sale in between.

The school year is drawing down too. Spring MAP tests are behind us, coaching and after school clubs are drying up, and seniors stress about their upcoming finals and wonder if they’ll have any negative impact on their college acceptance if they were to blow off and bomb their exams. Our staff are having conversations for next year around standards based grading and although we’re being kept in the loop as a professional courtesy, I wonder how much our voice matters compared to primary stakeholders and those who will be stepping up to continue traditions, invite new policies and make their mark.

Coincidentally, there has been a flurry of social media posts in my feed from co-workers around the world who are also about to set out on their new adventures and are feeling nostalgic themselves about the past with an uncertain future ahead. Of all the schools we’ve worked in, we came to love the community of people there, who were each others ‘rock’ of stability in the sea of international teaching and living.

One never realizes how good they had it and how good life was until those moments are no more. Isn’t that always the case in life?

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World Nomads for Travel Insurance

We just solved one of our top problems of our trip which was what to do about insurance. Another couple friend of ours who is taking a trip around the world for a year is opting to ‘go uninsured’ during that time and hope that nothing happens. Still, shit happens.

After spending months shopping around, we found ‘World Nomads‘ which has coverage for a number of circumstances such as terrorism, emergency evacuation and trip cancellation, just to name a few. Their site has a nice forum and great traveller testimonials.

Image Courtesy of Creative Commons

Based on our ages, travel destinations and state of residence in the US, our insurance costs as a family are about $1,500 per 6 months.

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Kids and Screen Time: How Much is ‘Too Much?’

One of the more paradoxical conundrums I read about on a daily basis is kids and screen time. Since the digital learning revolution has been fully embraced by schools that can afford it and skills weave themselves into lesson from teachers that can teach it, we have to ask ourselves “How much is too much?”

I recently shared a story from CNN that pointed an alarming trend in the digital divide between rich and poor countries that has the potential to leave hundreds of millions of children behind in the foreseeable future with inadequate technical skills that are becoming prerequisites for the future job market. On the other side, we are also learning that more parents are opting for ‘screen less‘ experiences for their children, even sending them to device less summer camps to help ‘kick‘ their internet addiction. That is balanced with studies that show that internet socializing isn’t a bad thing as it allows children to continue strengthening their relationships through peer bonding. Research shows that some social media use is better than none at all, but overuse can lead to higher rates of depression as children see how amazing their friends lives are online and unfruitful their own must be. I’ve read countless articles from parents who have ‘stepped in’ to combat this in their own way by confiscating cell phones of their children (even in some cases of their children’s friends when they come to visit) which has been met with shock and awe from local communities, but sometimes even disastrous consequences as teenagers take their parents to court, commit murder, or take their own lives by suicide.

“Technology by itself does not equal innovation, but thoughtful, deliberate use can redefine new learning experiences.”  

Screen Time for Learning and Socializing: ‘The Grey Area’

As much as you might dismiss the dystopian case studies above as something out of ‘black mirror’, it’s unavoidable that our devices have become an extension of us. The first time someone suggested implantable devices into the human body, I scoffed, thinking it was ridiculous. Now, students walk around with phone in hand, ready to look at the latest tweet, snapchat or text sending them endorphins reminding them that they are loved by someone, anyone, and that they’re not alone. The ubiquitous ‘grey area’ of children and online learning is how quickly students multitask and pivot from teacher curated content where the experience is centered on the learner to social media content where the experience is centered on the creator. Not being able to distinguish the agenda and target of these two very different delivery systems is reshaping our political ideology and even our basic belief systems of what we thought was ‘true’ about vaccinations, our spherical earth and the historical record. Experts like Jaron Lanier, Cal Newport, Sherry Turkle, Simon Sinek and Nicholas Carr are advocating for limiting internet and social media use and helping you kick your own addiction. The choice to do so is of course our own.

Resources for the Classroom

One of the most common things I hear from administrators and other teachers observing me teach is not how much I use technology, but actually how little I seem to use it despite my reputation as a digital learning coach. The best lessons are ones with a great ‘hook’, engaging questions and ample opportunity for everyone to speak, listen, read and write. Technology by itself does not equal innovation, but thoughtful, deliberate use can redefine new learning experiences. Here are some of my favorite resources that have helped me and my learners over the years:

  • Chrome Extensions: For the chrome browser, you can install tools that will give you a snapshot of how much time you waste on distracting sites. Some extensions like ‘stay focused’ you can configure a time limit that will shut you off from time-sucking sites.
  • Common Sense Media: This great site has all sorts of lessons for understanding different forms of media but also great articles. I’ve been using CSM’s lessons for cyberbullying push-in lessons lately.
  • Applied Digital Skills: Google’s portal for applied learning takes projects and breaks them down by grade level. Students can join classes set up by their teacher (similar to Google Classroom) and work through tutorials that are student based with metrics that give teachers a view of class progress.
  • The Kids Should See This: This site has amazing videos for lessons or discussion starters during check ins.
Image courtesy of Creative Commons

Educating Parents

One member of my PLN, Keri-Lee Beasley developed a brilliant ‘March Madness’ style graphic to help parents thoughtfully and playfully use the internet in new ways with one new task per day in the month of March. Some of the parents at the school where she works were dismissive of the benefits of using digital tools in the classroom and her intervention reduced the stigma that many parents brought to the table by instead of her preaching on how to best model this herself, the onus was on the children to do these challenges with their parents ‘together’ highlighting that this is a relationship first and foremost best done together with generations of digital natives and immigrants alike. It reminded me of as session that I’m delivering to grade 5 parents next month on how to bridge the digital divide (see below) as students transition into middle school. Other considerations are whether to put parental controls on browsing, blacklist certain words or IP addresses, and the conversations to have as a family that support classroom instruction.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ model to solving this problem- each school, country, and population of students and parents are different. As learning coaches, we can model thoughtful use, and highlight how when well leveraged, digital tools can enhance learning outcomes in amazing ways.

For Small Hands

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Living with Air Pollution

School was cancelled last week on Tuesday due to an unprecedented reason- air pollution.

I relished in the shiny luck of mother nature dispensing snow days back home while growing up in Minnesota. We’d watch as the snowfall slowly floated down in the evening and then wake up anxiously to see if it was enough for a ‘day off’ from schoolwork and a full day of building forts, sledding down the hill in the backyard, and as I got older, shoveling the driveway for my father.

We started our day back then by shooting out of bed and running down the stairs with the furor usually reserved for Christmas morning. We huddled around the radio as they announced school closures one district at a time.

Stillwater: closed. Forrest Lake: closed. Minnetonka Falls: closed.” The radio solemnly rolled out.

“I haven’t heard anything yet.” my mother would say wearily because that green light would inevitably impact her workflow at the college and require some amount of child care back on the home front.

“Green lake: closed. Minnehaha falls: closed”

The tension was palpable and we shook with the giddiness of a prospective lottery winner or Vegas gambler before the cards flop.

“Little Canada: closed. Gem lake: closed. Vadnais Heights…….closed.”

“YEESSSS!” We’d shout while scarfing down breakfast to layer up and rush outside with our adventures getting more brazen, elaborate and farther from home as we aged.

Why hello Clarice.

My First Air Pollution Day

I didn’t share the same enthusiasm last week when I did as a kid. Our day last week was spent indoors with an Air Quality Index of over 300. The kids at school cheered when they heard the news, but how can you get excited about the sudden realization that air pollution is really ‘a thing’ and has crept up to levels that make breathing hazardous? Will occasional school and work closures be the new normal for us as a species? Many of our friends have left Beijing, Doha and New Dehli for such reasons. Add Seoul to the list.

Lisa and I have seen this in the underwater world through depleted shark populations, and coral bleaching in the most remote of places. I wanted Ava to have an adventure on this year abroad, but part of me knows that this is an opportunity to see the bounties of planet earth: before they’re gone.

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The End of a Ski Season

There are moments that divide our lives.

Milestones of your child’s development. A promotion. Moving across the country. The loss of a family member or addition of a new one by birth or marriage. When we look back at these moments, they divide our memories into segments of our time before it happened and how much your life changed after it did. I had such a moment yesterday while up atPhoenix Park ski resort celebrating our last ski trip of the year.

“Daddy, can June and I ride the lift together….without you?”

“Without me?” I replied.

“Well you can ride the next chairlift behind us.”

Up till then, skiing had been a slog with Ava. The beginning of the season would revisit basics of snowplowing and after 1 or 2 runs, she would be done- happy to retreat back to the lodge with mommy to warm up with hot chocolate so daddy can cruise some double blacks. I’ve always wanted her to build her skills as a skier and I hoped that after enough trips up, it would eventually ‘click’ and become a life time passion. Still, I imagined her and I sashaying down runs together, a father and daughter duo enjoying the efforts of the other as equal peers like a modern day Rory and Lorelai from ‘The Gilmore Girls‘.

Ava and Jun Seo riding the gondola

‘We’re big kids and very confident skiers’ Ava tried to reason with me.

We went up to Phoenix park to spend it with our friend Seok Jin who was leading a trip there for his travel company and his son Jun tagged along for the ride. An injury Seok Jin sustained earlier meant he could not take his son out himself and resorted to paying for overpriced lessons on Friday. I was happy to take the kids out and give him a break.

The first few runs as a trio kept me behind the 9 year old dynamic duo, pulling up to help only if they wiped out and needed help reaching their skis or getting to their feet. However, after the sixth run, something happened. They started doing runs without crashing. They wanted to go again, and again. Then, it came:

“Daddy, can June and I ride the lift together….without you?”

Reveling in her newly minted confidence was equally the painful realization that my daughter was growing up, and away from me, albeit one run at a time. I flash forwarded to her wedding day when I would one day ‘give’ her to another man (or woman), whom she was spend the rest of her life with which I imagine is both the best and worst day that I father experiences for her baby girl, and in some small way, riding the chairlift with Jun was a harbinger of things to come. I thought that would be the end of it.

“Uh daddy, can Jun and I ride down a hill..without you?”

“What if one of you falls and needs help up?”

“We can help each other! We’ll be fine.”

I decided to test this theory by riding behind them for a few runs only to watch one of them fall and sure enough, be helped up by the other. It’s touching to see elementary boys and girls help one another, not yet fazed by the awkwardness that teenagers feel when they hit puberty and the middle school years. Soon after, I went to go check on mommy with them content to explore the mountain on their own.

“Let me get this straight.” I said upon their return. “You guys went through the terrain park?”

“Yes! It was so fun and they have big jumps.”

Aren’t you guys a little young to be going through the terrain park by yourselves?” I suppose this is what I get after showing Ava Chloe Kim’s latest halfpipe run in Vail (my alma mater) from my instagram feed.

That night, the three of us set out again to do some night skiing after Korean barbecue and copious amounts of soju for the adults on Seok Jin’s 46th birthday. By then, the temperature dropped and the slush gave way to freshly groomed runs with less crowds and floodlights.

The night belonged to the kids and they grabbed their moment like a baton that had been passed from an older to a younger generation, emboldened by illusions of immortality buoyed by Chloe Kim’s snowboarding abilities. They could do no wrong and would ski as fast as they possibly could, all the while staying together while a 42 year old snowboarder shouts frantically for them to slow down, tries to keep up, and recedes farther and farther from view.

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The great decluttering has begun.

Since we brought our cats home to California, we have started going through our apartment ‘mari-kondo’ style and asking ourselves ‘Does this bring us joy?’. If not, the items find themselves on a trip to school to be dropped off at various staff lounges much like how Andy Dufresne unsuspectingly smuggled his prison wall out of his jail cell in the Shawshank Redemption.

This isn’t the first time we’ve been through an international move. In Vietnam, we had a generous shipping allowance and a company packed our possessions into 81 boxes to travel by boat from Ho Chi Minh City to Seoul. Last week, we received a quote of $3,000 for a year’s storage followed by a shipping cost to a point yet to be determined by our hiring school. East Asia would be the cheapest, the middle East and East Africa coming in second and Brazil the most expensive.

With exciting prospects on the horizon, it’s still a humbling experience to downsize your life. With every item that makes its way to the ‘get rid of’ pile, a quiet reflection comes into play. Do we really need this? Would it just be cheaper to buy a new one? One item that came to mind was our wooden entertainment center. When our first moving company gave us a quote last week, it was one of our things that was ‘on the fence’. Solely practical in its function, it served merely as a stand on which to put the T.V.

“How long have we had that for?” I asked Lisa.

“Our second house in Vietnam”.

“Good good, we had that for 7 years there and 4 years here.”

Since 2008

It felt insensitive to give away something that is older than our daughter and is practically a family heirloom, but make no mistake-it’s just ‘stuff’. Easily replaceable and without real sentimental value. My mind danced around the house looking at which items have been with us the longest. My wool Nordstrom coat which my mother in law brought to us in Korea I got as a high school student 24 years ago. Still fits! The stained and tattered money belt we took with us when we moved to Thailand in 2002. 16 years old. Still works! It’s as if these possessions were the last holdouts in a house hold season of ‘Games of Thrones‘ or what remains of Andy’s toys in Toy Story.

One day in a few months, a group of people will box up what is left of our possessions, stuff it full of desiccation packets and shut it up in a container for a long sleep. It’s not us though. Just memories of our lives and momentos of moments that help us remember who we were and where we’ve been.

I think about the new tenants coming to live in our apartment after us and think of the new memories that the house will bring them. It’s as if we’re bequeathing the right to live in ‘our place’ even though we were renting it just the same. “Respect our old home.” I imagine telling them. “It brought us so many good memories. By the way, can we come back to visit?

Ultimately, that’s never true. Whether it be a house, apartment, tent, mansion or even ger, they’re all just empty shells. Empty rooms never have a story to tell. It’s the people in those rooms that do. The times they shared. The laughs they had. What fills their photo albums, hard drive, or is worthy enough of a frame to be hung on the wall to show off to visitors. Everything else is immaterial floating through time and space from the sales racks of big box marts to the discard bin of thrift stores or landfills that litter the world.

Last night, we said goodbye to our cat’s old ‘tower’. A five-foot tall scratching post with sitting areas on which our two felines curled and slept for the last 4 years, and last remainder of their time with us in Korea. If you were to visit us now, you would never know that we ever had 2 cats. I paid 5 dollars to discard it at the recycling center outside our building and noticed this morning while peering out the window, that a nearby dweller had scooped it up before it was picked up on the normal 10 am rounds.

I imagined this lucky person finding our frayed beast in the early hours of the morning and being so excited to welcome it to its new home and loving family in a mysterious building and apartment we’ll never know. I imagined them carrying it to the elevator thinking, ‘the kids will be so excited!’ not perturbed by its ragged appearance nor giving it much thought as to where it was from, or what it had to do with anybody’s life.

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To My Beautiful Ava on her 9th Birthday

Today I woke up to your sweet kisses and warm hugs. As with most mornings, you came to snuggle me awake before school, shimmying your little body under the heavy covers to warm up next to me. As I blinked awake, your sweet smile filled my sleepy eyed view and you whispered that you wished we could just lie in bed together all day, with breaks for a snack and lunch of course. You exclaimed that we could just pull the covers over our head and we could just chat and laugh and read together all day. I will always cherish this morning ritual and can only hope that it will continue for as long as it can, but your childhood seems to be slipping away so quickly, as with every passing day, little flashes of your pre-teen persona begin to emerge and take the place of my little baby girl.

Crafting at the International Food Festival in Itaewon

Your 8th journey around the sun started with a trip to Los Angeles for Christmas with the family, which is so important to you. You cherish every moment that you have with your family, knowing that our time together is often short. You also have a true love for all things Christmas and you were ready to start decorating and playing Christmas songs before the Summer was even over.

Presenting to the Elementary as a Student Counsel Member

Winter found you hitting the slopes and you took part in an International Ski festival, where you were challenged by the giant slalom, but even though you are still a novice skier you stepped up to the challenge and your momma cried as I watched you swoosh down the hill to a 5th place finish, your grit and determination shining through. You also competed in your 3rd triathlon and you even inspired your daddy to join you in training and participating in the event. I love that you take on these little challenges and you are always up for trying something new.

Getting Ready for a Whale Shark Snorkel, Leyte Island Philippines

This was your first summer in the US (since you were a little tot) and within days of your arrival we packed your bags and sent you off to Catalina Island Camps for a week of Summer camp fun. It is no surprise that you came back back with a bag full of dirty clothes, sun drenched skin and a deep desire for everything camp, you’re certainly our kid! The rest of your summer was spent hanging out with your cousin Aurora, making great big globs of slime, camping, eating popsicles, and going on picnics. Another highlight of your summer was getting up close and personal with the local manta rays and dolphins on the big island of Hawaii. You giggled with delight as the mantas tickle your tummy while they somersaulted before our eyes. I am not sure how many other kids would be brave enough to jump into the deep, dark ocean to swim with such giant creatures, but like I said you really are our kid.

Marketing her new cereal, “Kitty Crunches”

If this year had a theme, it would be “pink fluffy unicorns dancing on rainbows.” You came home from camp singing this song and it really does fit your gregarious personality. Your life continues to be full of song, and you are really finding your voice. You love to be outside and you persist as an advocate for animals and the environment. You are a voracious reader, with books about science, graphic novels and Garfield being some of your favorites. You are a proud member of student council and you are really finding your leadership niche at school.

Taking a Gondola at the Taipei Zoo

This year more than ever, you have been trying to find a sense of home. On several occasions you have asked “Mommy, where am I from” and we have had many conversations about the variety of possible answers you can give. I know that the answer to this question will be ever evolving as you grow up as a child of the world. During our Fall trip to Mongolia, we had the chance to stay with several Nomadic families that move their home every season and there was a lot to learn from that beautiful experience. So as we stand together on the precipice of your 9th year on this earth, let’s embrace the wise words of our nomadic hosts:

“Home is where the fire is”

“Learn to live as part of the environment and let it be your teacher”

“Learn from living together in small spaces”

“When you first arrive to a new place, be sure to reach down and say hello to the land first.”

May this year be filled with warmth and love, family and friends, laughter and adventure, enlightenment and knowledge. With love baby girl.

                                                                                                      – Your Mommy

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Mongolia Part 1: Among Nomads

Mongolia Part 2: Among Riders

Mongolia Part 3: Among the Holy

Ava’s Educational App Toolkit

I’ve made a career out of educational technology.

Twenty years ago, there was not even job descriptions like mine. Now, with the ever cascading deluge of platforms, apps and innovation that changes as fast as the color of a banana peel, schools and organizations hire people like me that can explain technology adoption in simple terms and offer training along the way. Helping other educators increase their skill set has been one of the most rewarding parts of my job and makes me wonder what new tech jobs are in store for us in the near future. Drone repair man? Already there.

This interest started in 2007 with me creating a blog to share my musings with like minded educators. After a few years, it grew into one of the top 500 educational technology blogs in the world and helped me rise up the ranks in Edtech circles to eventually become a Google trainer, regional presenter and keynote speaker. Despite these vain accolades and bravado, I still find it next to impossible to keep up with it all. It’s like shoveling your driveway while it’s still snowing.

However, for our big trip, I knew these skills would come in handy. As we couldn’t take textbooks with us, I’d have to leverage mobile learning platforms to help Ava learn as a 4th grader and make content that she could share to demonstrate her learning. Here are some of my favorites:


Explain Everything-This allows users to animate pictures and drawings as a movie file. This is handy for students that want to show multi step math problems.

Seesaw- Seesaw is a student portfolio system where teachers can distribute assignments digitally. Students can upload pictures, recordings and the teacher can share work with parents.

Ten Marks- This is a robust math program that gives practice on a variety of math problems.

Touchcast Studio– This is a fun program which turns a movie into a documentary/news segment with green screen interface options.

iMovie- One of Apple core suite products, this can add easy video clip transitions, titles and sound effects for digital stories.

Notability- With our new apple pencil, this is great for note-taking and highlighting pdfs or jpegs to practice annotating texts.

Paper 53- Similar to ‘notability’, paper 53 has a larger palate of draw tools. I particularly like the watercolor brush.

Khan Academy-A robust math program organized by topics and grade level. Videos and independent practice that are scaffolded into mastery tasks.

Minecraft- Running around in virtual battles may not have much applications to education until I learned that students can recreate historic places to reenact moments in history.

QR code Reader- Handy if you are in a museum and need access to additional information.

Class Dojo- A fantastic classroom management system that recognizes good behavior and serves as a nice parent communication system. New portfolio features make this and ‘seesaw’ almost evenly matched.

Show Me- Similar to ‘explain everything’ this also allows animation of drawings through video production.

Pic Collage- Great way of making, well, a ‘pic collage’ with drawings, text and scribble tools.

Epic- Epic has a massive reading library which is more elementary friendly than NewsELA and their user interface is more conducive to young readers with recommended ages for readers.

Expeditions- Virtual reality becomes a reality for the classroom teacher. Chose online expeditions and let students follow in headsets or just handhelds to prevent getting dizzy.

NewsELA- Curates non-fictional articles from major newspapers and other periodicals and translates them into different lexile/reading levels. Aligned to common core non-fictional reading standards. Good for upper elementary to high school aged students.

Related Posts

Designing a Curriculum for a Global Education

Connecting your Classroom to the World